At a reception in Washington last week, a group of Jewish Democrats announced the creation of a new organization to support the election of Democratic candidates nationally and to further the general agenda of Jewish Democrats, who tend to be center or center-left. That the coming out party happened the day after off-year elections produced two big wins for the Democrats certainly added to the celebration of the new organization’s goals.
But while the election of Democratic gubernatorial candidates Ralph Northam in Virginia and Phil Murphy in New Jersey provided a momentary reprieve from the steady march of Trumpism — which Democrats generally view as the increased visibility of white supremacy, hostility to immigration, minorities and women, and tax and health policies that punish the less well off — Democrats broadly, as well as those in the Jewish community, need to articulate a competing vision for America beyond opposing the president if they really want to expand on their wins into 2018 and beyond.
“We’re going to support Democrats who align themselves with the issues that the Jewish community cares about,” said Ron Klein, a former House member from Florida who is chairing the group, ticking off such items as gun control, health care, the environment and the separation of religion and state. “And we’re going to support Israel through a Democratic lens.”
The new Jewish Democratic Council of America sees its embrace of what Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said are the values of his immigrant grandparents as part that answer. The challenge, however, will be in what promise to be hotly contested individual races where the group will seek to make a difference.
The group announced it will build a database to target Jewish voters for the 2018 congressional races. Jews already vote overwhelmingly Democratic, with most of the community seeing the party that champions minorities and immigrants as their national home. So the JDCA will need to become sophisticated to find Jewish voters in the center or on the fence whose votes can make a difference.
That last issue may be particularly tricky. A segment of older Jewish Democrats are relatively hawkish on Israel and opposed the Iran nuclear deal, pulling some Democratic politicians to the right. Meanwhile, some younger progressive Jews are challenging the party’s traditional strong support for the Jewish state. Just what the JDCA means about supporting Israel through a Democratic lens remains to be seen.
Clearly, legislators like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who released a statement supporting the new organization, and Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who were among the dozen or so elected officials in attendance at the announcement, are emblematic of Jewish Democrats’ traditional positions. In addition, the JDCA’s founding board reads like a Who’s Who of Jewish community leaders, featuring executives and past presidents of metropolitan Jewish federations, the Jewish Federations of North America, and other community agencies.
The list of supporters is impressive. The objectives of JDCA sound encouraging. And the effort to re-center the party might be exactly what Democrats need. JN